Ice Hockey
Panthers defeat Leafs 3-1 in home opener, Bobrovsky moves to second on all-time wins list
Panthers defeat Leafs 3-1 in home opener, Bobrovsky moves to second on all-time wins list
Jul 18, 2024 2:27 PM

SUNRISE — After starting the season off on a three-game road trip, the Florida Panthers were back at Amerant Bank Arena for their 2023-2024 home opener.

The Panthers got their home schedule off on the right foot, winning Thursday night’s game 3-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Before puck drop fans were welcomed to the arena with the unveiling of Florida’s 2022-2023 Eastern Conference Champions banner.

Toronto was the second team Florida defeated on their way to the Stanley Cup Final last season — knocking out the Leafs in five games.

Similar to last season’s playoff series, tonight’s contest was another close one between the two Atlantic Division teams.

17:08 into the game, the first goal of the night was scored by Florida’s Kevin Stenlund, his first as a Panther.

Playing high in the zone near the top of the faceoff circle, Stenlund corralled a loose puck and rifled the puck past Ilya Samsonov’s blocker side — giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

Stenlund had a big home debut tonight, and was entrusted by Paul Maurice down the stretch defensively. He capped off his night with a big blocked shot and a beauty mark on his cheek to go with it.

“It’s great to get that confidence,” Stenlund said about the trust given to him by the coaching staff. “Obviously it pulls yourself up, it’s just fun to play.”

With seven seconds left in the first, Oliver Ekman-Larsson joined Stenlund in the first goal as a Panther column.

Receiving a pass from Sasha Barkov at the top of the point, Ekman-Larsson walked the blueline, firing a shot through a set of screens — beating Samsonov up high to put the Panthers 2-0 heading into the intermission.

Toronto would keep Florida relatively at bay to start the second frame, before getting their first goal of the night.

Midway through the second with the Leafs on the power play, Sergei Bobrovksy made the initial save on John Tavares’ one-timer, but he couldn’t reset quickly enough to stop Mitch Marner — who was sitting atop the blue paint.

Marner grabbed the rebound, pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Bobrovsky — getting the Leafs on the board 11:52 into the second.

The remainder of the second would see no more scoring for either side. Toronto would enter the second intermission ahead in the shot count 23-17, but still down a goal.

The third period was another tight one. The two sides locked it down defensively, and the goaltenders stood tall.

Still trailing by one late in the third, Toronto pulled their goalie with 2:10 left in regulation for an extra attacker. The Leafs would get one more lifeline to tie the game a minute later after Barkov was sent to the box for tripping Marner with 1:09 to go.

With the extra attacker and a power play, Toronto threw everything they could towards Sergei Bobrovsky in the Panthers net.

The Panthers penalty killers were able to clog the lanes, blocking three shots in the final seconds. Sam Reinhart put the icing on the cake, burying an empty netter with .01 left in the game.

Florida would take their first home game of the season 3-1, winning an early four-point swing against a division opponent.

“Everybody put their bodies on the line,” Matthew Tkachuk said post game. “We saw what it was like last year, we got in by one point so these points matter.”

Bobrovsky was the first star of the night with 30 saves on 31 shots. Tonight’s win also moved the goaltender into second place on the Panthers all-time wins list with 107.

“I think you’re going to appreciate it more after your career,” Bobrovsky said post game. “Right now, I enjoy being in this locker room, being part of this team. I’m so happy.”

The Panthers have three more games left on their current home stretch. They’ll be back on the ice Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

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